May 09, 2014 at 03:00 PM EDT

The Secret of Magic

Current Status
In Season
Deborah Johnson

Do you know what feeling I love?

Sitting in the glow of a warm window. Afternoon streams in, warming the nape of your neck, the tops of your shoulders, somedays even the corners of your soul.

It’s the simplest of simple pleasures.

There are a million metaphors I could use to describe Deborah Johnson’s writing in The Secret of Magic — but all of them are inadequate in conveying the ebb and flow of her phrasing or the care in crafting her characters (guess you’ll just have to, like, actually read it) but that attempt above is as close as I can get.

JoJo Marshall recommended it to me, having reviewed it for EW earlier this year. Handing me her copy, she gave me a hearty, “If you liked The Help, you’ll love this one!” I over-enthusiastically nodded my head in return, made a few exclamatory sounds, probably threw in an awkward wink and scooted off, never copping to having committed the ultimate Book Club faux pas: Nope, I haven’t read The Help….

In her review, JoJo writes that Magic is about, “…the troubling duality of the Jim Crow Era South.” It follows Reggie Robichard, a black female NAACP lawyer from New York who travels to Mississippi to investigate the (alleged) murder of Joe Howard, while navigating “the town’s segregated social structure with equal parts horror and wonder.”

It is also about local mythology and politics and the town matriarch, her convoluted definition of “family” and the legacy of slavery in Revere, Mississippi.

And, as JoJo’s first sentence claims, it is troubling. For all those pretty words, it is troubling. Troubling because the brutality and racism (or rather, the brutality of racism) ingrained in this town and tale remain such important parts of our current national dialogue. I read about Reggie taking in Jim Crow Mississippi and want to sigh in relief, grateful that such a time has passed. I want to shake my head and mutter “How could it have ever been so?” but, I, and we, can’t. That awareness, for me, was present throughout the entire experience.

On a more literary level — the cadence of Johnson’s writing is an absolute joy. I know that seems contrary to the weight of my prior paragraph but I stand by both notions and refuse to take either back (!). I can’t think of any other recent book in which I have so enjoyed an author’s actual stringing-together-of-words (is there where you tell me to read The Help?).

What about for y’all? What book has been the most enjoyable to actually read?

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